If dystopia begins anywhere, it’s got to be in New York City. Authoritarianism has always been the worm eating away at the Big Apple, and the stench of the rot serves as a warning for surrounding states.
Such is the case, yet again, as the city’s preeminent entertainment venue, Madison Square Garden, is on the cutting edge of new technological advancements that stand to erode all of our civil liberties.
The famed venue recently began using Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to ban people from its events not for security purposes, but rather as a personal vendetta. As the New York Times reports, “MSG Entertainment, the owner of the arena and Radio City Music Hall, has put lawyers who represent people suing it on an ‘exclusion list’ to keep them out of concerts and sporting events.”
The use of AI in this manner has long been a concern of privacy experts and civil liberty champions. Though the ability to use this software to identify potential gunmen or bombers in public spaces and schools has been quite tempting to many (for obvious reasons), many of us have cautioned that what is initially implemented for the “greater good” could easily be used to control people, and even frame them later on.
This seems to be the first wave of that prediction. The company has garnered images of all attorneys who work for firms involved in lawsuits against them—whether the individuals actually have anything to do with the litigation directly or not—and has uploaded them to their system so that they can be removed from the premises should they try to enter the event.
It isn’t hard to predict where this kind of precedent could go: businesses banning consumers based on their political beliefs, companies kicking people who leave them a bad review out, or even bans on people for things they’ve said on social media. This easily lends itself to a social credit style system like we’ve seen in China, where people can no longer freely buy and sell if they step out of line.
Despite these concerns, there has been no federal legislation to date prohibiting the use of AI technology in this manner, and only two states—Illinois and Texas—have passed laws prohibiting the use of biometric information without people’s consent. And while this is the first time we’ve seen a company use this technology in this manner, it’s really just the latest development of the surveillance state, which has been quietly spreading for more than two decades.
As the Times also reports, “High-tech surveillance by government is already common in New York City. The Police Department relies on a toolbox that includes not only facial recognition, but drones and mobile X-ray vans, and this month the department said it would join Neighbors, a public neighborhood-watch platform owned by Amazon. Neighbors allows video doorbell owners to post clips online, and police officers can enlist the help of residents in investigations.”
So really, both private businesses and the government are already heavily involved in this game, and while the latter mostly claims it is for security purposes (screening passengers at airports, for one example) the looming threat is clear. And once again, we must emphasize the tried and true notion that liberty must trump security, or you stand to lose both.
To be clear, this isn’t a case for government regulation. Private companies can do what they want, but they should be avoided and boycotted when they make choices like this. We must start standing up for people who have their rights violated before the same people come for us too, which means making some sacrifices in the process.
Madison Square Garden should be heavily condemned for this regressive, immature, and threatening policy. In going after these attorneys in this manner, they’re really coming after all of us and chipping away at our societal fabric.